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An organization’s initial response to a crisis can dictate the tone of its sustained response throughout the crisis, as well as stakeholders’ reactions to the incident. When news of the deaths of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife, and their 7-yr-old son broke, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) immediately paid tribute to the superstar. A memorial show to Benoit’s career aired as investigators searched the family’s home. The investigation revealed that Benoit murdered his wife and son before taking his own life, resulting in WWE’s retraction of its earlier tributes. Furthermore, the organization had to respond to the swarm of speculation that steroids—and WWE’s lax policy on their use—were to blame. This case study analyzes WWE’s immediate response strategies to their employee’s family’s deaths and the subsequent strategies used on learning that the employee was implicated. Qualitative analysis of corporate documents and official statements seeks to provide direction regarding how similar organizations should respond in the days immediately after tragic events when employees may be implicated.
The authors are with the Dept. of Communication, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS.